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Riots in Chicago contrast Great Bend summer pastimes in 1919
Out of the Morgue
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From the August, 1, 1919 Great Bend Daily Tribune. - photo by Tribune file image

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

From July 27, 1919 to Aug. 3, 1919, the city of Chicago experienced a race riot that resulted in the death of 38 people, and was considered the worst of 25 such riots that occurred nationwide that summer. While the lens of history allows us to understand the context of a slumping economy coupled with tensions as immigrants crowded against an influx of a growing black population seeking a better life from the segregated south, all competing for limited jobs and homes, at the time the actions resulted in fear and retaliation motivated along racial lines. 

Reports in the Great Bend Daily Tribune appeared Monday, July 28. 

“The trouble started at the Twenty-ninth street beach where whites and blacks are segregated, spread along Twenty-ninth Street to State Street, a distance of nearly a mile and along the latter, a main thoroughfare in the heart of the Negro district, which extends about five miles. The shooting started near the beach. 

“Reports that Negroes wandered across the dividing line to the white section of the beach and that whites amused themselves by throwing small stones at some of the Negro bathers, particularly on a raft, appeared the most plausible cause...” the report stated. 

The report, by today’s standards, is clearly biased against black participants, but it was still clear the white participants had played their part. 

When the fighting finally came to an end days later, it was finally determined that a young Negro boy who seemingly was unable to swim, had been hanging onto a rail road tie at the waters edge and did indeed drift close to the area of the beach claimed by white swimmers. Chicago had no official segregation, but unofficially, it was present. A white man threw a rock at the boy, who let go of the tie, and subsequently drowned. The police department turned a blind eye, according to the wiki about the riot on Wikipedia. 

One hundred years later, while occasional riots around the country make the news, legitimate news media strive for more balanced reporting. 

In Great Bend, the Tribune’s local reports included a burglary, a letter from a reader traveling to summer vacations, and a report about a summer church camp.

‘Fess up or else

“Two expensive swimming suits, several rings and a small amount of money were stolen from the office at the swimming pool sometime between Saturday night and Monday morning,” it as reported on Monday, July 28. “Several boys whose names are known are suspected by the police and unless the articles taken are returned within the next day or two, the lads will get into serious trouble.”

The report went on to share how the boys likely gained access to the office, but climbing through one of the small windows in the men’s dressing room. The swim suits both belonged to men, one from Great Bend and one from Hoisington.

No follow up report was made, so we can bet the culprits made right with the injured parties and the law. 

Likes her paper

Colorado Springs, then as now, was a popular summer destination for Great Benders eager to find a cool place to vacation in the hot days of July. Miss Hazel Weisenberger wrote to the Tribune to share her appreciation of her daily paper. 

“I want to thank you for the paper. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. You know there are times when letters fail and one gets rather lonesome but I can always count on the Tribune to appear every day. I guess that explains why I haven’t been homesick,” she wrote. 

“There are quite a few Great Benders here now. Last Sunday afternoon they all seemed to decide to go out to Stratton Park. Most of them were there and had a regular Great Bend reunion. It wasn’t planned but just a happening. The saying “all wise minds run along the same channel” naturally when Greta Benders are considered.”

Stratton Park was sold in 1932, for real estate development. 10 acres were sold for the construction of the Colorado P.E.O. Sisterhood Chapter House, according to a history of the house published in 2005. 

The park was named after the president of the Colorado Springs and Interurban Railway, 

Winfield Scott Stratton. 

“The park was dedicated on June 6, 1901, during which John Philip Sousa and his band played for 4,000 attendees. When the park was completed in 1902 it had ponds for swimming and fishing, gardens, and picnic pavilions. Other recreational facilities include a baseball field, a shuffleboard court, rides for children and adults, and a dance pavilion.”(

Church youth picnic

Young men and women from the Methodist Episcopalian Church in Stafford attended an informal church camp this week in 1919, which included two days of picnicking at the Harris farm on the Walnut Creek east of Great Bend. 

“Last evening they all autoed in from their camp and formed a line party to the Echo Theatre, and highly complimented Mr. Johnson on the pictures and said that the Great Bend folks should be proud of such a commodious and comfortable playhouse.”

We found a playbill for the Echo in that day’s paper. The films they enjoyed included many few have ever heard of: a western drama, “The Cowboy’s Awakening;” a comedy drama, “Gasoline Bronchos;” an episodic, “The Lightning Raider;” and an Arbuckle comedy starring comedian Fatty Arbuckle, “Fatty, the Cop.” 

Elsewhere in the paper, we found this commentary from the Jewell Republican:

“The old fashioned farmer used to gather the family in at 9 or 10 o’clock Saturday night and go to bed, and was up Sunday morning ready to take all hands to church and Sunday School. At 9 o’clock Saturday night the new fashioned farmer is loading the family into an auto for a trip to town to do the week’s trading, get a shave and attend the picture show, returning home after midnight, with all hands too sleepy next morning to attend church and Sunday School and the merchants, clerks and barbers are in the same fix. What is going to be the effect on the next generation?” 

It’s a much different world today, as we know. No longer does the farmer gather up the entire family to go to town. Today, the family likely sits down to go over individual calendars to find time to spend together. They likely do their own shopping and movie watching online. And to each his own for the most part when it comes to church.